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Looking behind the souvenirs in Hispaniola

Posted by Patricia Borns  June 18, 2012 08:19 AM

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I used to breeze past the Caribbean's shops of locally made island trinkets without a thought. After meeting Tricia Sweeney, who works for Una Vida in the mountain village of Los Pinos del Eden at the Dominican Republic-Haitian border, no more. The chasm between what tourists experience in the DR compared to locals -- especially Haitian transplants -- can be deep. For some, Los Pinos is no Eden. Sweeney has been working with ten of the native Dominican and Haitian immigrant moms in her village on a jewelry cooperative called Madres.

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Besides the money, the work gives the mothers a sense of self-worth. After creating their initial designs -- nothing fancy, just a handful of simple, tasteful pieces keying off local themes like the coffee bean -- Sweeney and one of the moms recently traveled to Santiago to sell their new wares on El Conde in the historic and commercial center, the Zona Colonial. At the end of the day, they had what for some artists takes years to find: a gallery interested in carrying their work. Their next goal: a sewing machine.

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Photos courtesy Una Vida.
Above: On streets around the country you'll also see women bent over sewing machines stitching their way to better livelihoods. Hand embroidery, such as you'll find adorning the linens sold in the Altos de Chavon artisans village at five-star Casa del Campo, provides employment to women living in the rural bateys -- the agricultural communities that traditionally house the country's sugar cane workers, most of whom are Haitian migrants.

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